The simplest way to improve Liberal Democrat websites

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last few weeks reading the headlines on local Liberal Democrat websites.

Headlines only, because thanks to the kind work of Tim Prater, I have a feed that gives me the headlines for all the published local stories from the hundreds of Lib Dem sites which use the Prater Raines system. I do this to help spot a wider range of stories to include in my email newsletters and on the Liberal Democrat Newswire Facebook and Twitter accounts.

This has meant I’ve spotted stories worth sharing which I’d have otherwise missed (thank you Tim!).

It also means that I’ve spotted that often the headlines are, shall we say, not quite optimal. Such headlines result in fewer people reading the stores – and the party certainly isn’t in a position where we get so much public attention that we can turn up our noses at some more online readers.

Here are a few stylised examples of the sort of headlines that crop up for real:

  • AGM minutes
  • Cllr Smith reports
  • Planning application GFE-34712 progress
  • August stories
  • Letter to Mayor

Of course, we don’t really want to veer over to:

  • You won’t believe what we found in no.13’s letterbox when delivering Focus!
  • All we did was submit a council question. What happened next will blow your mind.
  • When you read these 12 shocking food hygiene facts, you’ll never want to eat in town again.
  • This amazing footage will scare even the most dedicated driver.
  • 15 hilarious tweets that will make you think, “do these councillors really exist?”

Actually, I quite like the last one… and sometimes the apparently absurd headline really is justified by the story.

But hopefully you get the point: headlines can tell people something about a story, giving them a reason to want to read it, without having to go all clickbait. It is easy to forget to write such headlines – or indeed never to learn the importance of such headlines if you’ve picked up posting stories on a website as a little extra task somewhere along the way without any proper training or guidance. That’s why I’ve deliberately not singled out any of the worst real examples I’ve seen: this is about how we can all get better, not about how x, y or z once made a mistake because they didn’t know how things could be better.

It is, in summary, well worth spending even just a minute extra coming up with a headline that answers the question: why should I read this?

And remember, the person asking that question most likely doesn’t know that much about politics, isn’t that interested in politics and is, as a result, all round a normal human being.

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